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Tribeca 2011: Jean-Pierre Améris Delights With “Romantics Anonymous”

Tribeca 2011: Jean-Pierre Améris Delights With “Romantics Anonymous” (photo)

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Even before the credits begin on “Romantics Anonymous,” Jean-Pierre Améris’ comedy wins its audience over with a simple interpretation of “I Have Confidence” from “The Sound of Music,” made even more adorable by the way it’s sung by Angélique Delange (Isabelle Carré) as she strolls down the street. It’s bold, which is something the film’s characters Angélique and her soon-to-be boss Jean-Rene (Benoît Poelvoorde) are not, but that’s the charm of Ameris’ love story where the barrier to romance isn’t just getting the other person to let down their guard, but to overcome their own social anxiety. Which is a shame since besides a shared lack of self-assurance, Angélique and Jean-Rene have a love of good chocolate that they’ll need to sell if they’re to save Jean-Rene’s confectionary from bankruptcy.

Fortunately, Ameris didn’t let his own confidence issues come in the way of making “Romantics Anonymous,” instead drawing inspiration from it to make his first comedy after a career making dramas that have largely dealt with the subject of fear. Here, it is Jean-Rene’s fear of sweating through his shirt and Angélique’s dread at drawing attention to herself as an exceptionally talented chocolatier that often lead to the film’s considerable laughs and naturally, it came as a relief to the French writer/director that the comedy was received as one of this year’s Tribeca Film Festival’s word-of-mouth sensations. While in New York, Ameris spoke through a translator about what the Stateside reception has meant to him as well as what went into making “Romantics Anonymous” and how it can sometimes be very lonely making a comedy.

How did this film come about?

It was actually a long process. About 10 years ago, I started going to these Emotions Anonymous meetings [that Angélique attends in the film] and it was a stage in my life where I started developing fears of a lot of things, of even leaving my apartment. I refused dinner invitations. I didn’t want to go to film festivals anymore. And so I found out about the existence of this group, Emotions Anonymous and I joined them.

When I started attending those meetings, I was really touched to find out that there are so many people affected by this and people that you never would guess have this problem. For example, you’d see an apparently successful businessman or some really pretty women who go there and share that any kind of date is an issue for them. Because of the way I am, everything becomes cinema in my life, so I thought there could be a good movie to come out of that — talking about people whose fear is so deep, and their biggest fear is being looked at by others.

RomanticsAnonymous_04302011.jpgYou’ve almost exclusively directed dramas in the past. How did you know the subject matter lent itself to a comedy?

When I first started writing, it was very clear to me that the subject itself was comedic. When you go to these groups where you share your experiences, at the moment you experienced it, it seemed like catastrophe, but then the simple fact of talking about it makes you realize how funny it can be and people end up laughing. That laughter has a relief component. It really makes you feel that it’s fine. I think actually it would been pleonastic to make a drama out of such suffering.

Was it difficult for you to make the transition from comedy to drama?

It’s actually very difficult, as I found out, to work with comedies — when you write, when you shoot, when you edit. It requires you to be a lot stricter with the way you work and you never know at the outset whether a scene will make people laugh. For example, when we worked with a scene where [Benoit Poelvoorde] comes back with a shirt with ruffles instead of the plain shirt [during a dinner date], my actor didn’t believe in it and the people that were around us when we shot weren’t laughing that much, so I actually experienced some moments of true solitude as I was doing that.

You never know whether something will be successful until you show it to people and that’s something a lot of comedians that are well-known have said, that you always need to wait until you have feedback from the audience. I believe that working with comedy requires a lot of trust and a lot of bravery and a lot of discipline as well. It is a true risk and actually, this goes hand in hand with the type of subject I was dealing with. It’s about taking risks because instead of being funny, you can be ridiculous. And that’s a great risk, which I find very interesting and beautiful at the same time.

romanticsanonymous2_04302011.jpg Angélique, played by Isabelle Carré, sings to herself to boost her courage. How did that idea come about?

This idea came from the actress herself. It’s my second movie with her and it’s somebody I totally trust. She has a lot of points in common with the character herself and with me. When I wrote the script, I wrote it for her and when we were talking about it, she shared with me this bit of information about herself, which is that whenever she has to tackle a difficult situation, she actually sings a song and sometimes they’re songs that are on TV or often it’s the song from “The Sound of Music.” And that’s what we chose to put in.

It’s also interesting that this film deals with characters reaching middle age, which is a point where one doesn’t necessarily meet new people and a certain comfort sets in. Was that an interesting starting point for you to make a romantic comedy?

I hadn’t really thought of it that way, but you actually have a very good point. Actually, I wanted to show characters that were closer to my age – that was the initial idea. And this condition is something that starts out when you’re young, you’re growing up, but it continues. It never really stops. I think it’s really painful when we reach age 40, let’s say, and we realize we’ve failed at our love life and at our jobs because we’re paralyzed by fear. So I wanted to show people that we’re halfway through our lives and I wanted to show that everything was still possible. It was still possible to find love, to find professional success. I really set out to show that positive outcomes were possible.

Has seeing the film connect with audiences in New York been gratifying?

It was a pleasure, of course, to find out that the subject I tackled is truly universal and I’m particularly happy about the success in the United States because the film is nourished by my love for American romantic comedies of the ’50s, so it’s a little bit like going back to the source.

“Romantics Anonymous” does not yet have U.S. distribution, but will play the Tribeca Film Festival on April 30th at 9:45 p.m.

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. 

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number! 

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time. 

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by. 

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo. 

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim. 

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t? 

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?” 

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud. 

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.

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Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.

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Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!

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Inter-not

Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.

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Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.

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If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.